Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Can we overcome the Great Genealogical Divide?

Whenever anyone is promoting genealogy online or otherwise, there is a tendency to not only vastly overestimate the interest in the topic, but also a tendency to lump all of the factions of genealogy together. One of the things that started me thinking about this topic yet again, was looking at the schedule for the upcoming RootsTech Conference on February 6th through 8th, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. There is also a pre-conference Developers Day with a separate registration on Wednesday, February 5, 2014. In addition, there is a special Family Discovery Day for LDS Church Members on February 8th and another Family Discovery Day for LDS Youth on the same day.

As is usual for a genealogy conference, the classes offered in the general sessions are broken down by skill level; all, beginner, intermediate and advanced. In addition, there is a whole block of classes entitled "Getting Started Classes." RootsTech is also offering Computer Labs

RootsTech, in the past, has done an admirable job of combining all of these seeming disparate interests into one conference and there is no doubt that this "shopping mall" approach to genealogy is not only successful, it is exactly what we need in our highly fragmented genealogical community. But looking at this proposed schedule and from experiences in classed taught at the Mesa FamilySearch Library this past week, I find that there is really a much more serious division which I am calling the "Great Genealogical Divide."

The basis for the divide is complex. It is based on technological sophistication. Simply put, some people who are otherwise interested in genealogy are totally lacking in any computer skills whatsoever. This past week we have been working with would be genealogists who do not own computers and do not have Internet access. In addition, some of these same people have no keyboarding skills. How are they to be integrated into the fast-moving genealogical community. Don't they stand on the opposite side of the Great Divide? What is there to help them cross over?

For example, look at the "Getting Started" classes at RootsTech. Here are some examples of class titles:

  • Getting the most Out of
  • Basic Online Resources for the Beginning Genealogist
  • Big Sites, Little Sites - All Online
  • My Genealogy is Done! – Step-by-step 
  • Solutions for Adding Names to Your Family Tree.
See what I mean? This is beginning genealogy for technologically integrated people. These "getting started" classes are still way beyond the capabilities of those on the opposite side of the Great Divide. Of course, you say, this is RootsTech, remember the "Tech" part of the name. But what I am pointing out is that mainstream genealogy today is all Tech. 

Do we just say "Too Bad, So Sad" and ignore this problem? Fortunately, I can't ignore the problem because I am committed to helping these people with no computer skills who are still motivated to become involved in genealogy. Of course, even though I speak of a Great Divide, it is more like a valley where people are scattered all over the place from one side to the other. In one week, I have talked to computer professionals in the form of retired computer programmers and to others who cannot use either a mouse or keyboard. Where is the common ground? How do we bridge the gap between these two extremes. 

Here is my suggestion. If we have any interest in helping those with no technical skills, lets start doing things to include them in the community. How about basic classes in computers and Internet? How about a mentoring system with instruction for those who are technologically challenged. Pairing a technologically savvy teenager with an older non-technological genealogist might be a start and both may benefit. How about providing basic, I mean very basic, classes in computer usage at conferences, in FamilySearch Centers and through other genealogically related organizations? How about building a bridge for these folks over the Great Divide. 


  1. I'm so with you on this. Having had a woman sit an aptitude test a week ago and she couldn't even type her name into the test page to begin.

    There are a lot of people out there who have never had the opportunity to use a computer. I'm a Genealogist of over 43 yrs and I had to teach myself...not even electric typewriters when I was a high school.

    Pity I'm not coming next year to rootstech, but it's on my radar to make it in 2015. When I do I'll be first in line to assist,

    Maybe rootstech can get some sponsorship from Apple/Microsoft with a mini course to prepare this technically challenged folk - just putting it out there. Cheers from OZ :)

  2. I have helped many older people without computer skills. A skill many have that they just need to understand how to apply to computers is logical thinking. It's critical in genealogy to be able to decipher and order the information we gather. Applying this same thinking to computers removes the "mystery" of their operation. I often share analogies to familiar organizational tools when teaching computers - arranging your utensils in the kitchen is like arranging documents in files; ironing is like defragging, etc. Its a matter of finding common understanding.

  3. Sorry, I will be in the minority here, and will sound cruel, but time has moved on and regrettfully these folks have not kept up (at all). An analogy would be someone who has driven a horse and buggy all their lives, but when automobiles comes out, decides they don't want to learn how to drive an automobile. How long do you maintain horse and buggy things for them? Now just because someone is older they doesn't mean they can't learn how to use a computer, I am amazed everyday at the computer skills of a lot of older folks. Now, folks who can't afford it? There are a lot of places like libraries who provide PCs to do things on. This is a choice these folks have made, a choice to not move forward. So sorry, I'm not in favor of a lot of sacrifice on resources, time, effort and money to accomidate their choice. If you want to accomidate them, then that's your choice to do so, but I don't believe it should create a negative impact on the vast, vast majority of people who haven't made that choice and have kept up.

    1. With a deep sigh I halfway agree with you. For me, the Great Divide is people who want to learn and people who don't. I'll happily spend my time helping people who want to learn. The rest of them are energy parasites.

    2. You could learn grammar and spelling from those old folks!

  4. Our local society in Tulsa is planning on some basic computer skill classes this fall and winter. Basic means how to write an email, where to find things on a computer, how to use a mouse, etc. We have some members who have expressed an interest in learning these things.

  5. I have started a Technology Special Interest Group at our local society for just the reasons you outline. I realise that not all members will join in but we have a core of interested folk who are anxious to learn. It is a joy to work with them. Unless we have a degree of general technological literacy we cannot hope to make use of the wonderful IT tools at our disposal.